Friday, June 22, 2018

When home is not a resting place...

I remember a season in my life a few years ago.  We were moving into a new home--trying to fix, pack and clean one while moving into the other.  I had just returned from a two-week trip out of the country.  Spring Break and Easter were nuzzled somewhere in the middle of it all on top of all sorts of spring-time goodness at the kids' school and extracurricular activities.

It was one of those seasons when I would wake up in the morning and first thing have a little panic as I tried to remember which day it was.  Every facet of our lives was, school, church, even home.  I remember feeling there was absolutely no place to just rest.  I jokingly asked my friend if I could come take a nap on her couch for a while because I was not actually responsible for anything in her house!    

We build our homes in the hopes that they would be a haven for us.  Home should be sacred a place, where we can unwind.  Where we can be real.  Where we can air our dirty laundry (literally!).  But inevitably home fails us from time to time.  Family strife.  Difficult phases of parenting.  Everything on the news (it's been a doozy here lately, hasn't it?).  Mud on the floor!  What do you do when home is not a place to rest??

I love what Ruth Chou Simons writes in her book Gracelaced...."A tidy home and sometimes a calm and quiet environment has often been my comfort--my shelter in the midst of crazy--messy seasons.  It was never meant to be."

Psalm 91:1-2 says, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'"

We look for shelter and refuge in all kinds of places, things and people, but God's word reminds us that it is the shelter of Him--who is Most High and Almighty--where we will truly find rest, where we truly find home.  We cannot rely on our physical surroundings to bring us peace, no matter how lovely the couch cushions are!  (Incidentally my couch cushions smell like socks)

That season eventually passed for us.  We got moved in and the other house sold.  Summer came and we all enjoyed the break from school.  I began to remember what day it was again!  Seasons come and seasons go.  Some stay longer than others, both in good and bad ways.  The only constant we can expect is the true and solid refuge of God.

Take shelter there, friends, and you will find rest.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Out with the old....

Well, I reached the point this week where it was either replace the tile in my bathroom....or clean it.  I weighed all the options.  Spent a good amount of time on Pinterest studying the latest tile trends.  Watched several YouTube videos on replacing tile DIY.  In the end I decided it was probably less wasteful (of both time and money) to just clean the tile I already have.  Sigh....

It strikes me how quick I am to just replace things.  Shoes, bags, furniture, cars.  The ease with which we can shop for and acquire new things these days makes it all too easy to avoid putting much effort into the upkeep of anything.  Out with the old--or slightly used--and in with the new!  Sometimes it's a lack of know how on repair or maintenance.  Sometimes I'm just plain lazy.  But either way, there's a danger sometimes to looking to something new so fast, to taking the easy way out.  Danger because this attitude can bleed into other areas of our lives...

Did you know that relationships are hard work?  Like really hard work sometimes.  Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors.  Y'all, there are all sorts of opportunities for someone to get under your skin.  And when you live in a city the size of Houston with a population of somewhere over 2.5 million people (y'all go home now....we full) wouldn't it just be easier to find someone else to talk to?

But that's not how it works.  Scripture is full of references to the fellowship of believers, the image of all people working together to form one body.  The idea that we belong to each other, and in that we've got to tend to our relationships with one another.  

"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." Romans 12:3-5

The foot cannot despise the hand and the body still make it.  There has to peace.  "Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14).  We have to invest, maintain, repair.  Even when it is hard.  Even when the world is saying it would be easier to walk away.  It goes beyond just forgiveness.  It speaks to God's design entire design for us, in community and in fellowship.

Are there relationships in your life need some maintenance?  Repair?  Complete restoration??

Father, we lift them up to you now.  Help us to see others with the same eyes and the same heart as you do.  When we are tempted to discard and walk away, give us the humility to turn instead to forgiveness.  Restore our friendships, marriages, families, communities, that we might live into the truth you have designed for us....that we belong to each other.  And, that in that, we would see you more clearly.  Amen.  


Saturday, March 24, 2018

When you're good looking AND you know everything....

It starts at a young age, people professing authority on things they know nothing about.  Let me tell you, for example, some of the things that my own children (God bless them) are "experts" on....

1.  Former football players and team stats that occurred before they were born
2.  Wild animals
3.  Deadly diseases
4.  The automobile industry
5.  Foods from other countries
6.  President Trump's wall

They can't tell you how long they've been playing a video game, but they sure can weigh in on foreign affairs.  Yes, at the ripe ages of  11, 10, 8 and 5 my kids are seemingly experts on most everything.  Whether this comes from a place of great confidence, or simply the inability to say "I don't know" when asked a question, well...I don't know.  But to be sure, in this day and age of information overload and a less than objective media, add to your list of parenting do's the skill of pause and discernment.

Because you can be sure for every ounce of truth out there you're gonna have to wade through a whole bunch of poo to get to it.  And poo-wading is not easy.  It takes time and prayer and thoughtfulness.  And we do not live in a society that necessarily elevates those virtues.  We like answers that are quick and make us feel good and think less.  Who has time for more than that?  Best just to write/print/post/spout off/vote for whatever sounds good and convenient in the moment.  Right???

Christ spoke of false prophets.  "They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them...every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit."  Matthew 7:15, 16.

Fruit takes time.  Apples don't grow overnight and neither does consequence.  See, this is the trick of the devil.  He knows our impatience, our willingness to fill in a gap, our uneasiness with time and effort and conviction.  But we can't play the game on Satan's terms, only God's. 

In the absence of immediacy we must rely of truth.  God's truth.  We have to teach our children, and ourselves, that God's truth is the lens through which we see the rest of the world.  That what falls outside of that lens cannot and will not bear good fruit, despite what the short-term promise is.  We have to teach them to say "I don't know why, but God does" and rest in that trust.  That the right answer is not always easy, but that it is right.  And that loving one another is always an option.  And when we cling to His idea of truth, though we change, God does not.

What your false prophets don't see is the end of the story.  What they haven't held in their hands is the world, and all of its creation.  What they can not possibly know is everything that He does.  What they can't give you.....salvation through Jesus Christ, His son.

Pause.  Think.  Pray.  And when you speak, speak Truth.


Monday, January 8, 2018

Who you are...

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  
Psalm 139

I was reminded about something very important recently.... 

What others say about you does not change who you are.

What others think about you does not change who you are.

Whatever shortcomings you think you have...
Whatever your bank account looks like...
Whatever your dress size is...

...God knows who you are.

He knows who He created you to be.  He knows exactly what His glory looks like working in you.  He has known you from the beginning of time, every fiber of your being.  No one has the power to forfeit that in you.  No one.

When we can walk forward without guilt or fear or shame we can honor God's creation in the very best way.  We can leave the power of who we are--and whose we are--in the hands of the Almighty Father.  And make no mistake about it--you are His.


Wednesday, December 20, 2017

This is Christmas

I had a really, really, great week recently.  One of those weeks where you look back and see God's hands all over each day.  The three biggest highlights....

1.  I heard the testimony of some new friends' marriage, how God met them, redeemed them and turned their lives around.  It was amazing!

2.  I watched a sweet little friend ring the bell at Texas Children's Hospital, a symbol of the end of her cancer treatments.  She is officially "no evidence of disease"!!

3.  I celebrated with friends who finalized the adoption of their precious baby daughter.

I share these joys with you for good reason.  For in celebrating in these ways with these families, you can not overlook the struggle it took to get them there.  These people--all so dear and precious--have fought, and fought mightily.  They have fought temptation and pride.  Illness and disease.  Doubt and unrest.  Their roads have been long and bumpy and dark.  And yet.....

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.  On those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned."  Isaiah 9:2

Advent is a season to prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of Christ.  It's a season to embrace traditions and have (the best we can muster!) a bright and merry spirit.  But it is also a time to understand what Christ's coming means.  To look around on the roads we're traveling.  To see the bumps and the deep darkness and to feel those struggles AND YET! know a light is coming.  To know the hope of Christ.  

Because Christ does come to us.  From the manger to the cross, and from the grave to life again, Christ comes again and again and again to us, with hope, with salvation, with victory.  This is Christmas, friends.  This is hope.  This is Jesus.  May we know it in the deepest way.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Long Family Christmas Letter 2017

Ah, the holidays!  The season for making things pretty and bright and shiny and lovely.  Especially the Christmas cards.  As you might recall from last year, I took a stab at writing something no less touching but slightly more authentic to update family and friends on happenings in the Long family.  In the continued spirit of authenticity--and because you're not fooling anyone anyway--I give you The Long Family Christmas Letter, 2017 Edition...
Dearest Family and Friends....

What an incredible year it has been for our family.  The Lord has indeed blessed us in so many ways!  Kevin still has his beard.  It disappeared briefly for a few days, but the kids kept telling him he looked weird without it so he grew it back.  Whew!  Kevin's managed to stay just this side of skinny jeans on the hipster scale.  He looks mature and rugged, yet just the right touch of relevant.  We feel very blessed.

Michael is in 5th grade this year and wants a phone.  I tried to explain how cell phones are actually the work of the devil himself.  Is it any coincidence that both the fall of man in Genesis and the leader in personal technology involves an apple??  I think not.  There was much eye-rolling about this and he has not been deterred.  Michael also enjoys soccer, swimming and playing the piano.  We feel very blessed.

Blake is in 4th grade and if you ask him what's new he'll tell you he shot his first deer!  I thought it was gross, but he was so pleased so I didn't tell him how gross I thought it was.  I'm working on an apology for his future wife because I think there are going to be a lot of hides and heads and deer guts in her future.  I want her to know he is a wonderful young man even though he is so gross.  He loves being outdoors and playing football and swimming.  We feel very blessed.

Zachary just turned 8 and is never wrong.  Never.  I don't know what else to say about that.  We feel very blessed.

Parker is in kindergarten this year and, despite all odds, is managing just fine without his mother in "all day, everyday school".  His teacher taught him how to count to 100 so now he counts everything, including the minutes until he can see his mom again.  He loves to buy his lunch from the cafeteria (everything comes wrapped in its own plastic bag) and marvels at the other students that fall out of their chairs and forget to raise their hands when talking.  He played a bit of YMCA team soccer this fall when he was in the mood to.  Did you know you don't have to run during soccer? can just sort of walk up and down the field and look at the ball from a distance.  This was the strategy for many members of the team.  We did not win a game.  Still, we feel very blessed.  

I continue to do as much online grocery shopping as I can and am thinking about learning the guitar and Spanish.  Thinking about it.  I am current on all of the episodes of British Baking Show on Netflix and sometimes exercise.  I'm still the president of our elementary school PTO.  I feel very convicted about volunteering and being a part of our community.  This also allows me to see the kids during the middle of the day.  Do you know what teachers LOVE? When you pop into their classrooms and give your kids a hug in the middle of instruction.  To be a part of my kids' day at school.....I feel very blessed.  

Most of all, we have God who loves us despite ourselves!  We're looking forward to celebrating this season of His coming and we pray daily for the grace that will allow us to get through it!  May His love fill your hearts and homes this season....and all seasons!

With love....the Long Family 

Front Row, Pictured from Left to Right:  
Zachary Long (counting the minutes until he can take his "church shirt" off)
Kelly & Kevin Long (still recovering from the previous day's argument over sandwich condiments)
Parker Long (about to be pinched by his big brother)
Back Row, Pictured from Right to Left:
Michael Long (about to be grounded for pinching his little brother)
Blake Long (just farted)  


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Preparing room....

I just finished putting the front yard decorations out.  After all, the best way to spread Christmas cheer to is sing aloud for all to hear!

Is it too early to start talking about taking it all down?  You know, when the Christmas season is over.  Like a modern day Isaiah, Hobby Lobby has been foretelling of its coming for months now.  But what happens when it's all said and done?

One of my favorite Christmas lines is in the first verse of Joy to the World...."let every heart prepare Him room".  The longer I walk with God, the more I see the truth of what God does to a heart when one allows Him space inside it, and keeps Him there close by.  Anyone can know who God is.  Scripture reminds us that even Satan knows He exists.  We can't stop at salvation either.  I accept Jesus as my Savior.  But what about the Lord part?  Does He rule in your heart?  In your life beyond the season?      

The truth about Christmas for me is that it doesn't really matter much what you do at this time of year, if you're not living up to it the rest of the year.  What holiday magic really creates a relationship among family members that only see each other for the sake of the season?  That angel tree gift is a wonderful gesture, but the poor are still in need the rest of the year, too.  We love to say, "Keep Christ in Christmas" but what about the rest of the year?  Where are you keeping Him then?  Does He go back into storage with the nativity scene until next December?

Let every heart prepare Him room....

The gift of God's son is a life changing gift, from the inside out....not just a seasonal one.  We can celebrate Christmastime all we want with a lighted Christmas tree and ornaments, decorated cookies and packages.  Or we can do none of it at all!  Christ isn't just interested in being a part of your holiday celebration.  He wants you all the time.  

Heavenly Father, this time of year it is easy to be swept up with celebrating and decorating, gift-buying and preparations.  All of these traditions can indeed be so much fun.  But, Father, when the season is over and everything is packed away let me remember that You are still on the throne!  You are my Savior AND my Lord.  Let my actions this holiday season be a continuation of the good works You have accomplished through me so far, and lead me further in Your name into the new year ahead.  Amen.